New Hookah Lounge Bubbles Up on First Avenue

photo(185)Daniel Maurer

The former home of Dana Falafel Shawarma Deli will be offering falafel again – and flavored tobacco, as well. In the next weeks, a hookah lounge will open in the modest storefront at 45 First Avenue, near Third Street.

Stu El-Boghdedy, the manager of the forthcoming Aziza (a girl’s name meaning “beloved” in Arabic) gave The Local a sneak peek into the 35-seat lounge decorated with Moroccan lanterns, fabrics and poufs. In addition to Egyptian water pipes, he said, he’ll be serving light appetizers such as hummus, falafel, grape leaves, and eggplant salad as well as non-alcoholic drinks such as Turkish coffee, mint tea served in ornate teapots, and salep, a sweet, hot milk drink.

Mr. El-Boghdedy said hookahs would go from $12 to $35 or $40, which raised the question: why are water pipes at the East Village’s numerous smoke dens so expensive, anyway?

“Tobacco’s cheap,” conceded the charcoal-tender, whose family is involved in a few of the lounges. “It’s just when you have a hookah lounge, basically 70 percent of your profit is coming directly from hookah. The food is there, alcohol is there, but hookah is the main thing.”

And it’s not just a matter of covering the rent. “The only reason you have hookahs for $25 and others for $40 is the quality of tobacco,” he said. “Some tobacco out there could be extremely expensive. Some can be $40 a pound.”

He cited Al Fahker, an Arab brand, as the top of the line. A 250-gram box is $12.99 at Hookah & Shisha Central.

All the more reason to savor one of the 50 to 60 flavors that will be on offer, said Mr. El-Boghdedy, who hopes his customers will smoke like an Egyptian. “Where I grew up, it’s all about what you can taste in your mouth, not what you blow out of your mouth. In Egypt you can really tell the difference between apple, strawberry, grape, apricot, whatever it is.”